The release of the 2005 album Alligator made the The National one of the most buzzworthy bands in the country. They became the darlings of critics and bloggers, and the album ended up on a number of “best of the year” lists. That’s all very nice, but it also adds to the pressure to deliver with the next release. The good news is that on Boxer, The National have lived up to their promise with another strong effort.
The band is originally from Cincinnati, OH, but now resides—where else—in Brooklyn. Their sound is somewhat akin to that of Arcade Fire. This is rich, dark, and complex orch-pop. It’s built with guitar, bass, piano and drums, but it doesn’t end there, as brass, woodwinds, strings and organs all add to the mix. Up front is the instantly identifiable, morose baritone voice of Matt Berninger, which is perfectly suited to the music.
Berninger’s lyrics are sometimes hard to hear, and if you do hear them, they’re not easy to understand. He seems to be looking inward more this time around, and he has dispensed with narrative in favor of what seem to be bits of overheard conversation or parts of an interior monologue. Drummers aren’t usually singled out for praise, but by refusing to play it straight, Bryan Devendorf has created one of the more interesting instrumental contributions in recent memory.
There are no singles here. This is an album that demands your attention the way that albums did back when they still mattered. Songs like the opening “Fake Empire,” with a guest turn from neighborhood friend Sufjan Stevens, and “Slow Show” stand out, but they’re both part of the greater whole.